Man charged in 1964 civil rights Mississippi murders
A man has been charged in connection with the murder of two black teenagers abducted and killed in Mississippi in 1964 at the height of the United States civil rights era, US officials said on Wednesday.
James Seale was arrested in the case and charges against him were sealed, according to a US law enforcement official. He was due to appear in court on Thursday, according to media reports.
Seale is a former sheriff’s deputy and a reputed member of the Ku Klux Klan who at one time was thought to be dead but whose identity was later uncovered, according to the local Clarion-Ledger newspaper.
“I ain’t in jail, am I,” Seale said in 2000 when asked by the Clarion-Ledger newspaper of Mississippi if he was involved in the killings.
Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore were abducted by Klansmen while hitchhiking in Meadville, taken into the woods, beaten and then weighted down and dropped into the Mississippi River, according to the newspaper.
The killings were among dozens of murders in the deep South by whites fighting to retain a brutal system of racial segregation in the face of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
Many of the crimes remained unsolved for years because the killers were protected by state and local law enforcement officials who routinely turned a blind eye to race crimes.
About 28 of the crimes have been solved in the past two decades by officials spurred on by local civil rights activists working as investigators, the newspaper said.
“The fact that people are still going after these guys shows that Mississippi and Alabama are waking up to the responsibility they should have shown back then,” said Frank Sikora, author of Until Justice Rolls Down: The Birmingham Church Bombing Case and other books about the civil rights movement.
“It’s something that’s been hanging over Mississippi all these years,” Sikora said in an interview.
Dee and Moore were killed on the pretext that whites feared that civil rights workers from the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee were running guns into the area, according to the Clarion-Ledger.
Their bodies were recovered during a high-profile search for three other civil rights activists later that year.
In 2005 a jury in Neshoba County, Mississippi, convicted Klansmen Edgar Ray Killen for manslaughter over those murders that helped crystallize revulsion at opposition to civil rights in part because two of the victims were white volunteers from New York working to register blacks during a “Freedom Summer.”
Veterans of the civil rights movement say the climate of fear in the south caused by the violence was nowhere greater than in Mississippi.
Authorities confronted Seale and told him they knew he and others took Dee and Moore “to some remote place and beat them to death”, according to FBI records in 1964 quoted by the newspaper.
“You then transported and disposed of their bodies by dropping them in the Mississippi River. You didn’t even give them a decent burial. We know you did it. You know you did. The Lord above knows you did it,” the records said.
“Yes,” Seale was quoted as replying, “but I’m not going to admit it. You are going to have to prove it.” - Reuters